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Pushing Daisies’ Apple-Gruyère Pie

Sometimes a picture is not worth a thousand words.

I know the above picture looks like your average, ho-hum apple pie. But trust me when I say that this is a very special apple pie, having the distinction of being the only post on this site inspired by a TV show.

Pushing Daisies is a quirky, magical-realist comedy with shades of Amélie Poulain and Tim Burton. It’s protagonist is a pie-maker who can bring the dead back to life with a touch–and kill them again with a second touch. Needless to say, the hapless pie-maker brings a dead woman back to life and falls in love with her, realizing that he can never touch her. In addition to all the macabre antics surrounding reanimated corpses and the like, the show features two spinster aunts who are afflicted both with social anxiety disorder and a great love of expensive cheese. Make sense? No…? Well, like I said, it’s quirky.

Well, anyway. The idea for the pie came about after I had bought an expensive piece of Gruyère, only to find upon getting home that it was hard and dry. I planned to return it, but that night, on Pushing Daisies, Chuck, the pie-maker’s undead girlfriend sends her cheese-loving aunts an apple pie with Gruyère baked into the crust. In an attempt to cheer them up and alleviate their social anxiety disorder, she laces the pie with homeopathic anti-depressants.

My own version lacked the homeopathic anti-depressants, but I borrowed the idea of grating Gruyère into the crust. I don’t know if the show’s writers are baking divas, but the Gruyère is a stroke of genius. Imagine a perfectly flaky, tender pie crust flavored with the salty piquancy of Gruyère, like a cross between a pie crust and a gougère. Unlike the cheddar traditionally used in pie crusts, Gruyère doesn’t turn oily and leathery when melted and cooled, but instead takes the texture of the surrounding flour. The crust holds between your teeth for just a moment, then shatters delicately into the juicy apple filling. And those apples! So juicy and fresh, they tasted like they had been picked that morning. (Which, come to think of it, they probably had.)

My pie and I went to a pot-luck that evening, and believe me, this pie is a dreamy, swoon-worthy, be-sure-you’re-sitting-down-when-you-taste-it, best-crust-ever kind of pie. After snagging the tiniest piece to take home with me, I was left with a little pinprick of regret. Perhaps I shouldn’t have shared my pie with quite so many people. Or maybe next time, I should add a healthy dose of homeopathic anti-depressants so I don’t miss the pie quite so much when it’s gone.

Note: The pie crust recipe below contains extensive instructions, summarizing everything I’ve ever learned about making this finicky dessert.

Charlotte Charles’ Apple-Gruyère Pie

Makes 1 9-inch, deep-dish apple pie

3 lbs. tart red apples (Northern Spy, Romes, Empires, or Harralsons)
1/2 c. sugar
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
5 tsp. cornstarch or all-purpose flour
1 egg, lightly beaten

1 Gruyère Pie Crust–recipe below

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Take dough out of fridge.

Peel, core and slice apples into quarters. Slice each quarter thinly. Mix with other ingredients.

Roll the larger piece of dough into a disk about fourteen inches in diameter. I use a piece of parchment paper dusted with flour to prevent sticking. Flip parchment paper over 9 inch deep dish or 10 inch glass pie plate, and ease dough into plate.

Roll smaller piece of dough into circle twelve inches in diameter. Pile apples into pie plate, scraping any juice on top of the apples. Place smaller round of dough on top of the apples. Seal two crusts together, brush with the beaten egg, and make three parallel slits in the top crust to allow steam to escape.

Place pie on a cookie sheet to catch any drips, put in oven, and reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees. Bake 50 minutes to an hour, or until you can see the filling bubbling up between the slits in the crust. Cool on a wire rack at least 20 minutes before serving.

Gruyère Pie Crust

Making pie dough is governed by three principles. 1) Use leaf-lard. Spare me your gasp of horror; leaf lard makes the most tender pie crust around and unlike Crisco, contains no transfats and doesn’t leave an unpleasant, soapy taste in your mouth. Don’t use lard from the grocery store; it is most likely rancid. Leaf lard should smell pure. Buy from a butcher, or order here. And okay, if you are utterly opposed to lard, you may use butter. 2) Leave pea sized lumps of butter in the dough. Under the pressure of the rolling pin, the lumps of butter flatten into thin sheets that alternate with the flour. In the heat of the oven, they create the flaky layers that characterize the best pie doughs. 3) Keep in mind the pie ough rule of escalating insanity. The more your pie dough makes you weep, gnash your teeth and lie on the kitchen floor convinced that the whole enterprise is a complete disaster, the more likely it is that your pie dough will be heavenly. Beware the pie dough that is easy to work with; it will most likely end up dry and tough.

While everyone from Cook’s Illustrated to Rose Levy Berenbaum recommends the food processor for quick and easy pie crusts, I have never had luck with it. The food processor overprocesses the dough, and my crusts end up tough. If you use the food processor, only use it to cut the butter into the flour. After that mix with a fork. If you don’t use a food processor, a pastry blender will do. You can use your fingers, but you run the risk of melting the butter with the heat of your hands, ruining the effect of those pea sized pockets of butter. Luckily for me, my icy, grim reaper fingers pose no such threat to the pie dough.

Makes one double-crusted 9-10 inch pie.
2 1/2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp. sugar
13 tbsp. cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1 in pieces and stored in the fridge
7 tbsp. leaf lard (or more butter, if you must)
2 oz. Gruyère, grated with a microplane rasp grater
6-7 tbsp. ice water

Mix flour, salt, sugar and Gruyere in a large mixing bowl or bowl of a food processor. Using a food processor, pastry blender, or your fingers, cut in the large until no large pieces remain. Add the butter, and cut into flour until the largest pieces of butter are the size of large peas.

Remove flour-butter mixture from food processor, if using, and place in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle ice water over flour in increments of one tablespoon, toss with fork after each addition. (Try not to add too much extra water, but I usually end up going over the recommended amount.) When dough clumps together when squeezed in your palm, gather dough together into two disks, one slightly larger than the other, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Sources: Regan Daly’s In the Sweet Kitchen, Cook’s Illustrated.com

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